HL Deb 14 October 2004 vol 665 cc440-54

House again in Committee.

Clause 3 [Section 2: supplemental]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 5, line 2, at end insert— (6) The Secretary of State shall ensure that such arrangements are in force as are necessary to secure that a Category 2 responder receives a fair contribution towards the costs incurred by it in complying with any requirements imposed on it by regulations made under section 2(3) or (4).

The noble Baroness said: Clause 3 deals with a Minister of the Crown issuing guidance to a person or body listed in Parts 1 or 3 of Schedule 1 about the matters specified in Clause 2(3)—a Minister making regulations as to the extent of duty to assess, to plan and to advise on contingency planning—and Clause 2(4)—which would apply the same provisions.

Our amendment would insert a new subsection at the end of the clause which would ensure that the bodies to which these regulations apply are covered by a contribution from the Government towards costs incurred in carrying out requirements of the regulations. Our amendment relates to category 2 responders which are listed in Parts 3 and 4 of Schedule 1; namely, electricity suppliers, suppliers of gas and water, telecommunications providers and those connected with the transport industry.

We understand that in an emergency many or those companies will need to pull together rapidly. Perhaps supplies will need to be moved from one part of the country to another and the transport industry may have to support a mass evacuation of one part of the country. The utilities may be required to carry out tasks that they would not normally do. I remember during the foot and mouth crisis that many farmers were told to clean up a lot of the land and equipment around their farms to try to prevent the spread of the disease. In order to carry out those functions they may have to hire other equipment. This is just one example of a group being asked to do something that it would not normally have to do during a time of crisis.

I am sure that in any such event, all the category 2 responders will he more than happy to comply with any requirements imposed on them by the regulations. However the cost implications for them could be, and often are, very extensive. Is it fair to ask them to carry the burden of those costs? I look to the Minister for assurance on this issue and I look forward to hearing what he has to say on this matter. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

The name of my noble friend Lord McNally is on the amendment. We on these Benches certainly support the principle. The point about local authorities was made particularly forcefully by a number of speakers at Second Reading. I know that the Minister with his local authority background will well understand the tensions over funding of local authorities. I acknowledge the increase in funding for these functions included in the Spending Review 2004. I think that the Minister has written to noble Lords referring to that.

Nevertheless, the point is well made by the noble Baroness. Moreover, even if the funding is provided right now—I do not know whether or not it is—this is, to use another unfortunate phrase, something of a moving target to ensure that all the preparation is in hand. These matters do not stand still. I am not sure whether technically one refers to the Secretary of State. I mention that not to carp, but simply to say to the Government Front Bench, "Please do not take a technical point on this. We can come back and get it technically right later". I support the noble Baroness.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

We cannot accept this amendment. It splits local responders into categories with a different level of duty being imposed on each category.

Two obligations fall on category 2 responders, the first of which is to share information. This will allow them to support the development of effective multi-agency plans. Secondly, they will also be obliged to co-operate with other category 1 and 2 responders through participation in local resilience forums. That does not mean that their emergency planning work will be taken over or that unnecessary or burdensome demands will be made of them. But it does mean that they will be fully engaged in local civil protection work in a structured, consistent and, I would like to think, helpful way.

I think we could all accept that information sharing and co-operation are essential fundamentals to the development of sound risk assessments and well worked out planning and response arrangements. How could a fire authority make its flood response plans without a knowledge of key sites to be protected—for example, electricity substations? What is the sense in organisations preparing plans for dealing with emergencies if they do not hang together?

The proposed amendments require the Government to ensure that category 2 responders receive a fair contribution towards the costs incurred in fulfilling these two duties. I certainly share the concerns that category 2 bodies are not unreasonably burdened, but I do not agree that it is necessary to put such a duty on the face of the Bill. I shall explain why.

Category 2 responders are generally organisations that already have direct responsibilities to the public, either for their safety or for the provision of a range of essential services. In most cases, they are already subject to a range of specific civil protection duties by virtue of their licensing or regulatory regimes. For example, water undertakers are required to provide water by alternative means in the event of an unavoidable failure of the piped supply and to take account of the needs of vulnerable people. The regulatory regime for the railways also requires operators to do a degree of emergency planning work. The Bill does not duplicate these requirements, but merely seeks to ensure that emergency planning undertaken in specific sectors is linked to the wider civil protection effort.

Indeed, that is what we discovered when we conducted the regulatory impact assessment on the Bill to measure the burdens imposed on the private sector. The main conclusions of the RIA were that cost per organisation in each police force area is quite small and that the costs are significantly outweighed by the benefits.

In practice, the requirements imposed on category 2 responders would amount to attending a small number of local resilience forum meetings per year, providing information relevant to civil protection issues—for example, data on hazards or business continuity plans—and participating in one or perhaps two exercises per annum. The consultation on the draft Bill confirmed this assessment and provided some useful insights, which have been used subsequently to refine the thinking behind it.

I recognise the need to strike a proper balance between engaging category 2 responders effectively in civil protection work and avoiding imposing unnecessary or disproportionate burdens on private sector bodies.

Having said that, I hope that the noble Baronesses feel reassured. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her recognition of the additional funds that the Government have made available to local authorities for their work. That has been widely welcomed and has given a great deal of comfort to the local authority sector. Inevitably it will help in ensuring that arrangements work better, particularly in co-operation and joint works with other category 1 and 2 responders.

2.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Before the Minister sits down, he has dealt fairly adequately with the issue of what I would call "the maintenance of the early warning"—the emergency planning function. But there is the separate issue of costs incurred in the event of an actual emergency. One could envisage circumstances where perhaps transport firms for particular reasons were involved in exceptional cost, which would not otherwise be reimbursed. Will the Minister inform the Committee a little bit more about that specific aspect, which could be acute, specific and directed at particular firms rather than the general issue of the planning cost? I think that most people would accept that was a highly desirable thing and a liability with which they would have no problem.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

That is a fair point. I have not addressed the detail of the costs that private sector companies might incur. In a sense that is outside the scope of the Bill. It would be fair to say that that is something which will unfold as an event unfolds. That is the realistic approach. I have an example of the operation of a utility company, disrupted by an act of terror. Of course there might be a case for relaxing service level agreements or the level of service to be provided or perhaps even suspending price caps.

In fairness, it has to be said that the issue will have to be thought through on a case-by-case basis, taking account of the situation, the impact on that particular service company and so on. So it is hard to be precise in these situations, but as a general rubric we do have to look at the way in which events work and the cost to that particular company of providing that particular service.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am sorry, I need to pursue this matter a little further. I was thinking of something even more specific perhaps than that; I was thinking of the 1951 floods when there were major breaches to the sea wall. Inevitably some transport firms became very heavily committed in the movement of materials to repair those breaches. While I would accept that perhaps it is not appropriate to try and deal with this on the face of the Bill, I thought that the Minister may have had some more specific thoughts about how that sort of situation might be dealt with, rather than just saying that the circumstances would be left to unfold.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

In that sort of situation obviously there would have to be compensation. I hope the noble Lord would expect that for compensation or payment for providing a particular service—you are moving people or goods from one place to another in response to something like a flood—clearly there will have to be agreement. That sort of arrangement is probably, as the noble Lord acknowledged, not best dealt with on the face of the Bill but in regulations and in guidance, so that the events can be covered in that way. I think that would be a far better way of doing it. That is why we resist this particular amendment.

Lord Jopling

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps he would consider another aspect of this, which I think is extremely important. In the event of a terrorist action which involves a nuclear explosion, one of its often forgotten side effects is that there is a magnetic pulse effect which totally collapses the working of nearly all motor vehicles. If we were to have—one dreads to think it—a nuclear explosion, the street would be entirely cluttered with abandoned, immobile vehicles. If the emergency services were to work in those circumstances, they would somehow have to clear those vehicles from the streets to get through to do the work that they need to do. Inevitably, that would have to be done by pushing them physically off the road on to the pavement and in other ways. Would that situation also be covered by compensation? That is an important matter.

I have asked Questions about magnetic pulsing before, but have never received a good Answer. I can imagine huge damage to motor vehicles in the area around a nuclear explosion in order for the emergency services to work. I am not at all clear what would be the position regarding compensation.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am not going to make Dispatch Box pronouncements about precise details of a compensation scheme that might have to be put in place to deal with the inevitable side-effects of an explosion, nuclear or not. Such situations are in extremis. However, I am advised that for insurable loss or where a fault lies with the company or a third party, arrangements may have to be put in place. There may be emergencies in which the impact is spread across a community as a whole. Obviously, in such cases, the loss will be spread over the community and compensation may not always be appropriate. So it is difficult for me today to be precise about every set of circumstances in which a compensation scheme may or may not have to be put in place. It would be unwise for me to offer more than that at this stage.

However, I understand the noble Lord's concern and can understand his frustration at not getting precise answers. We need to think carefully about the matter outside debate on the amendments.

Baroness Buscombe

I thank the Minister for his response, but we are talking about what happens in extremis. That is the whole point of the Bill: it is about what we do in an emergency. I am concerned by the Minister's reply. I hear what he says—that Clauses 2 and 3 relate to duties to assess, plan and advise—but the amendment asks for a fair contribution in compensation for carrying out any duties in response to regulations that are laid down. Clause 2(3) states: A Minister of the Crown may, in relation to a person or body listed in Part 1 of Schedule 1, make regulations about —

  1. (a) the extent of a duty under subsection (1) (subject to subsection (2));
  2. (b) the manner in which a duty under subsection (1) is to be performed".
The Minister's reply has caused me to think more closely and clearly about the problem that we face. It is not at all clear to what extent those regulations might command a category 2 responder to act in a particular way. I hear the Minister's response that it is about assessing, planning and advising, but the regulations are actually about doing something. For the Minister to say that there cannot be any thoughts about compensation at this stage is a concern.

Perhaps I should take the Bill away and think again about where we should pin the Minister down in the Bill on compensation for actions carried out by category 2 responders because, at the end of the day, that is what I am focusing on. However, I assumed that the regulations, following on from assessing, advising and planning, would talk about action. What is the point of having category 2 responders unless the regulations will talk about what they are to do? So in my view the Minister's reply is not satisfactory and poses more questions than it answers.

As an aside, we must think about the role of some category 2 responders, how they operate and how they are already investing financially and in manpower to prepare, plan and respond to emergencies. For example, mobile network operators tend to plan nationally, rather than locally, and are crying out not only for clarity in the Bill about financial compensation, so that at least they know where they stand, but for the Government to appreciate that dealing with category 2 responders on a local authority basis is unhelpful. For example, somewhere such as Heathrow and its environs may span two local authorities. In many ways, the private sector is thinking ahead on such issues rather more strategically and effectively in extremis, in an emergency.

Focusing back on compensation, I will take the amendment away, think carefully about the Minister's reply and consider how we may table an amendment on Report that demands a clear response from the Minister about compensation for action carried out by category 2 responders. However, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Advice and assistance to business]:

[Amendments Nos. 41 to 43 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Lucas

I briefly ask why this duty is being put on local authorities. When it comes to local businesses—say a hotel on the river in Boscastle—there is not much advice that you can give. Once the thing has been swept into the Bristol Channel, business continuance is a bit difficult. Local businesses tend just to have to put up with their discontinuance for a while because they are subject to any local emergency. Perhaps the Government can enlighten us and offer advice on ensuring that businesses keep the records and facilities in a way that enables them to be resilient, if they are operating on a larger than local scale and have an opportunity to continue in business if there is a local emergency.

That seems an essentially national question that should surely be addressed by national government. Why should ICI on Teesside be approached by its local council about how it ensures the continuance of its petrochemical business in the event of a local emergency in Teesside? ICI will consider that nationally, if not internationally. What does a local authority bring to that discussion that could not be better done nationally?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Taking the noble Lord's point about Boscastle, that is an example in which it is most appropriate for services administered by the local authority to act and intervene. That is why local authorities have the lead responsibility to initiate recovery work and ensure that there is—in the jargon—business continuity management.

3 p.m.

The noble Lord made a point when he asked what would happen in the event of an incident involving a national resource, such as an oil refinery, which caused a local problem. No doubt, there will have to be some national response mixed in with the local response. However, because of their understanding of the locality and the work that the emergency planning chief officer and his staff will have done with local businesses and so on, it is felt that such people will be best placed. No doubt, they will also be able to understand whether there is a need for other parts of the national resilience framework to be brought in in that circumstance. That is why the lead responsibility has been placed with local authorities.

Our experience—much of this is drawn from experience—is that local authorities have done an extremely good job in dealing with such problems and crises, even with terrorist attacks such as those at Bishopsgate or Manchester. Manchester is a good example of a case in which the local authority played a key role in response to a terrorist attack on the part of the commercial sector, pulling together organisations and working hand in hand with the business community to ensure the regeneration and recovery of part of the city centre. That is what works best, and it is on that experience that we have based the clause.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [General measures]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 44:

Page 5, line 40, at end insert ", or ( ) establishing a public information programme in respect of emergencies

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 44, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 45, which is a similar amendment.

Clause 5 will enable a Minister to require a body to perform a function in order to prevent an emergency, reduce the effects of an emergency or take any other action in connection with an emergency. Amendment No. 44 would add another paragraph to subsection (1) and would ensure that the Government established a public information programme in respect of emergencies.

I know—I presume—that the Minister will tell us that there is no need for our amendment, as the Government have already produced and distributed a leaflet to every household in the country and have a website containing information on "Preparing for Emergencies". However, we would like to know whether that is all that the Government intend to do to educate the public on how to behave in an emergency.

The need for information was highlighted in the BBC programme "Panorama" on Sunday 16 May 2004. The programme claimed that the UK was far behind many other Western countries when it came to giving the public advice on what to do and what to prepare for. Do the Government believe that, by publishing a small booklet with bullet points, they have caught up with the rest of the world in giving advice?

The BBC programme went on to state that MI5 decided to publish security advice on its website for the first time in April this year and that the site had subsequently received 3 million hits in one day. That should show us that the public want to know what to do in an emergency. Do the Government now feel that they have done enough in educating the public in respect of emergencies? Could the Minister tell the House how the information available and distributed in this country compares with that in, say, Australia or America?

Amendment No. 45 relates to a slightly different point. The public, if given the correct information, can be immensely helpful in preventing a terrorist attack. In Northern Ireland, during the IRA's campaign of the 1970s to the 1990s, there were frequent public information campaigns and terrorism awareness lessons were given in schools and in other public meeting places and to other public bodies. I remember well that we all had a much stronger sense of what we should do and how we should act in a precautionary way on public transport or in public buildings. For example, I find it extraordinary that people now walk past large black sacks left in unusual places. Certainly, I am still not prepared to accept a briefcase sitting by itself on a train or a platform or on a Tube—perhaps I make a fool of myself. Often, other members of the public—particularly the young, I notice—look at me as if I have gone slightly mad, but I was younger back in the 1970s, and I was acutely aware of such things. I was nearly blown up by the IRA in the 1970s by bombs that were defused with three minutes to spare, thanks to a porter—Irish, as it happened—who alerted the police to the fact that there was a massive bomb in plain black sacks three floors below the flat where I was sleeping. I had not realised that I was that important.

The point is that there was a strong sense of what we should do and what precautions we should sensibly and quietly take. That has changed. Earlier today, we were saying that we were living in a new climate in a dangerous world. We just want to feel that the Government are doing all that they can to inform and educate people, not in such a way as to disturb them beyond what is reasonable but to make them feel comfortable that they and we are doing what we can to prevent and minimise harm. I look forward to the Minister's response, and I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

Like me, the noble Baroness would have been out of her hotel with her mac over her nightie as soon as the alarm went off. She would be as astounded as I was to find that it takes half an hour for some people to get out. In one case, someone was finishing putting on her make-up.

What are the Government doing to learn from other countries? The public are not biddable; I am very aware of that. I understand that, last week, warning after warning was given to the Israeli people about going into Sinai. I was told by someone who lives in Israel that those warnings could not have been louder or clearer, but many went all the same. We know what happened. Is international experience being shared? Different cultures absorb information in different ways, but it is a small world now.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

We have had some discussion and debate on preparedness and information provision. It is useful to do that, not least because we continue to learn. I have great respect for the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Buscombe. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, evacuated rapidly and is with us today to tell us about it. It is an appalling thought that she might not have been.

Clause 2 puts a duty on category 1 responders to advise, warn and inform the public about emergencies. That duty should ensure that the need to provide the right information to the public is embedded in the civil protection process. When we look back at Protect and Survive and other efforts to inform the public, we cringe a bit and feel rather uncomfortable about what was said and done then. I can remember thinking that it was rather funny and rather fatuous. This time, however, we have got off on the right foot. No leaflet is perfect. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, kindly sent me an example of how access to information for minority groups might be improved. She gave me a useful example of some work of which she was aware. We are more than happy to see it as part of a learning process. I do not think that the amendments take us much further forward, but it would he helpful to think more on the matter.

Amendment No. 45 would enable the Government to require category 1 respondents to establish and promote a public training programme. Training is different from information and advice. I suggest that there is no such thing as a standard terrorist threat or major incident and therefore no such thing as a standard response. Our response to any incident, including chemical or biological incidents, accidental or otherwise, would obviously depend on a number of factors; for example, what the danger is, who is affected by it, and how best to contain the incident. Trained personnel from the emergency services are obviously best placed to decide the appropriate response on the ground.

To give detailed prescriptive advice or training in advance about how to handle every potential threat could be misleading and perhaps unhelpful because it would engender a sense of confusion. However, householders can take basic precautions which would help them in any number of disruptive incidents. For example, many households already keep handy a supply of candles and a torch in case of power cuts. The best first piece of advice in the event of an emergency is: go in, stay in and tune in. By doing that, members of the public are more likely to be in touch with information put out through public broadcasts. We do not intend to institute a programme of public training or to get local responders to do that. For that reason, we resist the amendment.

We have looked at what other countries have done and reflected on their experience. We have used that experience in applying it to United Kingdom circumstances because that makes much more sense. There is no "one size fits all" approach. We need to ensure that responders are in the best possible position to provide information, that they understand their local information needs, and that they can pass on useful government-acquired information. In that sense, we are improving the range and quality of our resilience and trying to ratchet up local responders' sense of awareness.

We do not want to be over-prescriptive. On the other hand, we want to ensure that through all our programmes we provide appropriate levels of information, make good use of broadcasts, understand that people will want to access information in that way, and make good use of the Internet, which is now an increasingly widely used form of media and communication.

Lord Garden

On behalf of those still waiting in breathless anticipation of the delivery of the pamphlet, perhaps I may ask whether a survey has been carried out to see how many people received it. It certainly has not yet made it to NW3.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I may have responded to this point in an earlier debate. Surveying is ongoing to gauge the percentage coverage. I do not have the figure in my head but I will try to supply the noble Lord and others involved in these discussions with follow-up information. We want to ensure that the leaflet has got round. I am not sure that I have received my copy either, so the noble Lord is not alone.

Baroness Hamwee

There would be little point in sending out further copies through the same delivery network. Perhaps the Government will consider alternative means of delivery through commercial companies other than Royal Mail.

Baroness Buscombe

At the risk of sounding a little flippant, I can inform the Minister that Bremner, Bird and Fortune certainly received their copy of the leaflet. I am not sure how one should take it, but they certainly made light of the leaflet. The point of a skit that they did last weekend was that the only advice is to stay at home. It was very funny but rather unfortunate because that is not the British way. I hope that people will have taken it lightly. The difficulty is the extent to which the public, in particular young people, take notice of any leaflets, whether national or local. No matter how much hard work local authorities may do through local education and information programmes, I am afraid that I remain sceptical that their information will hit home. There should be more information in schools and more broadcasting.

3.15 p.m.

I do not believe that there is a danger of being too prescriptive. Our approach should be plain, straightforward, simple and commonsense. I am therefore disappointed by the Minister's response. I believe that any form of modernisation—that dreaded word—of our legislation on emergency powers and civil protection should have embedded in the Bill the insistence on a continuing programme of what to do, in simple ways, in an emergency. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 45 to 47 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Lucas

Although this matter arises at several points in the Bill, it is most concentrated here. The Bill gives certain authorities several powers to swap or obtain information. They must obtain the information for the purposes of the Bill but there is no further restriction on its use. Such a further restriction is common in other legislation; why is it missing here?

There seems to be no provision for the transfer of information to government. To return to the subject of an earlier amendment, if government are not bound into the Bill they do not have any right to obtain the information they need to do their own planning. Since they are supposed to be part of the planning network, in the airy-fairy way described by the Minister, surely they will be hampered if they cannot get the data they need.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I think that the noble Lord would accept the premise that sharing information is essential to ensure that we have a coherent structure for emergency planning and a coherent response. It is crucial that plans and assessments are based on robust information about hazards and the procedures and capabilities of partner responders.

The noble Lord asks what limits there are on the use of sensitive information. The regulations provide that sensitive information, which may relate to national security, are to be used only for the purpose of performing a duty under the Bill where the information was obtained to support another emergency function. The only exception that I can see is where consent has been obtained to use the information for other purposes. It is clearly a sensitive issue. Ultimately, we must take a lot on trust because the situations that we are discussing are likely to involve sensitive issues that are difficult to resolve. But we have to operate on the basis of trust and ensure that the information we have is there and is doing the job of advancing the cause of public protection and acting in the public interest. That is why the legislation is framed and phrased in that way and why the clauses work in the way that they do in order to ensure that sharing of information is connected to the performance of the duties under those clauses.

Clause 6 allows for provision to be made about the sharing of information in relation to other legislation or legal provisions that relate to emergencies. That is its intent.

Baroness Hamwee

One of the public interests is the proper protection and the right balance of civil liberties. I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing the Committee's attention to that point. I should add that my noble friend Lord McNally also opposes Clause 6 standing part of the Bill.

It would help us all if we could have a greater understanding—it may be that it cannot he given today—of how the restrictive use of information that the Minister has described will be monitored. What will happen to the information after the time when it is required? Will it be retained? Within the proper constraints of civil liberties, will limits be applied? Similar issues have arisen so often in recent legislation; for example, the use of samples taken for DNA purposes, the use of CCTV cameras, the police filming video records at demonstrations, and so on. It is not a novel point, but it is certainly one to which we on these Benches and clearly the noble Lord need to have answers. I shall put it as strongly as that.

The Earl of Onslow

The reason why I find the noble Lord's answer rather disturbing is not because of the tone or even the substance of what he said, but it is what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is saying. It goes to the root of an enormous amount of legislation that is coining through now; be it that which is coming through in respect of the Children Bill and the great, enormous computer. It is the amount of information that the state is feeling it is necessary to get to itself.

The state now is so capable of having these things and individuals, in a way, are getting so small. The balance of individual liberty is in serious danger of being undermined. Of course, I do not accuse members of the present Government of being Gauleiters or anything like that. But if we give people all those powers someone, as night follows day, will abuse them. That is why we should be awfully careful, at all stages of legislation, to say, "Are you absolutely sure you need it? If you are not, I still do not think that you need it and we, as a Parliament, should check it". It is worrying and is going through all the body politic at the moment. I suspect that it would apply to my own side were they in government. It is a temptation for all governments.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for not thinking that we would abuse information and that we have acted in good faith in the way in which we have framed this legislation. We have been quite careful. We have had a lot of discussion with—to use the jargon—the stakeholders. Clearly, their reaction to this is very important.

It is worth saying that we have data protection legislation in place. We have the human rights legislation in place. Those things offer protections against abuse, which are very important. In addition, there will be regulations on the disclosure of information which will regulate the way in which that information is sought and disclosed. In this situation, it is the intention of government to use sensitive information sensitively. We will obviously have to respect the providers of that information, whether they be another part of the public service or a private utility.

It is only on the basis of useful information and information given gladly to respond to an emergency situation that this will work. We do have to generate some good faith on that. I hope that we can all play our part in dispelling any cynicism on the Government's part. I know that people think that the state is overweening, but we are talking about circumstances where these are dire emergencies, where the information is essential and where people need to share information, trust one another and work together to the common good. In recent emergencies of which I am aware, I think that people have fairly done that and that government and local government have worked well.

Lord Lucas

Yes. But that is not what is worrying us. Quite: there are powers in this Bill for extensive information gathering and sharing in connection with emergencies and the planning therefor. I do not think that that gives us any cause for concern. The question that we are asking is: what else can happen to that information? Why, when in other legislation, one finds protections to say that that is all the information can be used for and that it should not he held beyond the time when it is useful, are there none in this legislation? Can we have them? If the noble Lord says that they are already there in some way, due to some other piece of legislation, can he please spell that out in a letter to us? I do not require it now.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The draft regulations make plain that sensitive information obtained pursuant to the regulations may be used only for the purposes of performing a duty under the Bill or another duty that relates to emergencies. Without appropriate consent, it cannot be used by a local responder—to enter into the jargon—for other purposes. Sensitive information cannot be disclosed to the public unless appropriate consent has been obtained. That will be set out in regulations, which are there in draft now. So that is the answer to the particular point that I think the noble Lord is making.

Lord Lucas

Is the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, going to explode?

Baroness Hamwee

No, I am not going to explode. I am going to ask a technical question. If the constraints and so on were in primary legislation, I assume that someone complaining that they had been breached would have an action for a breach of statutory duty. I do not know whether that applies in the case of a breach of regulations. The noble Lord can explode now!

Lord Lucas

I do not care a fig what is in draft regulations. They can change tomorrow. We are looking for the plain, fundamental protections for information that we have in other legislation. We are asking the Government to follow their own precedents and to put exactly what is said in draft information in primary legislation, which is where these protections belong and as they have done elsewhere.

If the noble Lord is relying on and saying that there is other legislation, which means that what is in the draft legislation is inevitable and is there as part of the law already, perhaps he will spell that out to me in a letter. If he is saying that we are relying, for the protection of the citizen, on the Government's goodwill in producing a piece of secondary legislation, I consider that utterly unacceptable.

But to return to my second question, to which I have had no answer at all, how are central government getting hold of the information which they need to play a proper part in civil protection? They have no rights under any of the information gathering or collaboration clauses in this Bill. How are they to play their part unless they have those rights?

The Earl of Onslow

Does the noble Lord not understand that by putting these protections in regulations as opposed to, as normally is the case, in legislation, it adds to the suspicions of nasty, evil-minded people like myself who never trust any government at all?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I explained that there are protections already in place by virtue of the Data Protection Act. I have also explained that there are necessary protections being put in place by virtue of the regulations. I am not quite sure what more we can seek to get from where the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is coming from on this.

I shall look in Hansard at what he has said and think some more about it. It may well be that I am missing the point, but I do not think so. I am not simply relying on the argument that people should take on trust what the Government are saying. We have framed this very carefully and protections have been put in place. Therefore I am not initially persuaded by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that putting something in the Bill would necessarily add to that. However, as ever I shall be happy to reflect on the points made by the noble Lord.

I turn to the second point. The noble Lord asked how central government get their information. I direct the noble Lord towards Clause 9 which provides an enabling provision for central government to obtain information from local responders about their civil protection activities. I think that that answers the specific point he put to me.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Lucas

No doubt we will visit the first point again on Report if we do not get any satisfaction out of the Government. If the Minister cannot understand the difference between protections being put in primary legislation and those included in secondary legislation, then I despair. However, I am sure that he will recover his sense on the matter in time to write to me a letter.

I turn the provision for the Government to obtain information under Clause 9. If that is really the limit of the information that the Government think they need to run a proper civil contingency service, it really adds to my doubts about whether the Government are serious about playing a role in this at all.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 47A:

After Clause 6, insert the following new clause—